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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

April 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)A much more productive month on the reading front and I have also stolen a march on May, pre-reading some cracking new releases. That’s good.

However, with such a frenetic pace of reading, trying to get ahead of myself, I kind of lost sight of reviewing the April titles too. That’s bad.

There were also a couple of titles that I’ve deliberately avoided reviewing as I just wanted to read them for pleasure, and not have to pick them apart too much for reviewing purposes. However, with this round-up affording me an opportunity to tidy up a few loose ends let’s crack on, and clear those decks shall we? May is going to be a busy month with blog tours aplenty, a plethora of brilliant crime releases, and the Raven’s attendance at a certain little crime shindig in Bristol….

Books read and reviewed:

David Jackson-  A Tapping At My Door

Annemarie Neary- Siren

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night

Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City

Also read…

dodWhen East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip straight down the middle of white, rural America to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin. Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty, leave the only home they’ve ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map and a gun they shouldn’t have. Along the way, the country surprises East. The blood on his hands isn’t the blood he expects. And he reaches places where only he can decide which way to go or which person to become.

Widely billed as The Wire crossed with road trip movie, I think that this book actually defies the simplicity of this description. In the character of gang member East, who was the absolute stand out for me, Beverly has created something really quite special. This is a bildungsroman for the modern age, with East in particular embracing the possibilities of life outside of the tough LA neighbourhood he inhabits, and the lawless life he leads. As the book progresses and his cohorts fall by the wayside on their cross country mission to murder a trial witness, I found the exploration and growth of East’s character spellbinding throughout. Unlike other reviewers, who bemoan the slower pace of the second half of the book, I thought this worked perfectly, and gave Beverly total reign to explore and describe not only the changes within East, but also aligning these developments in juxtaposition with the new landscape and way of life he undertakes- the urban versus the rural. The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers. An absolute gem and highly recommended.

motherToday, Marcia is heading to the Old Bailey. She’s going there to do something no mother should ever have to do: to attend the trial of the boy accused of her son’s murder. She’s not meant to be that woman; Ryan, her son, wasn’t that kind of boy. But Tyson Manley is that kind of a boy and, as his trial unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s his girlfriend Sweetie who has the answers Marcia so badly needs and who can – perhaps – offer Marcia some kind of hope for the future. But Sweetie is as scared of Tyson as Ryan should have been and, as Marcia’s learned the hard way, nothing’s certain. Not any more.

Categorized as fiction, but following one family’s experience in the aftermath of a heartbreaking crime, The Mother is the second book from Edwards, author of the much lauded A Cupboard Full of Coats. What I loved about this book was the symbiotic balance of the raw, unflinching emotion of a family torn apart by the death of a loved one, set against the remorseless impassivity of both the legal process they must endure, and the perpetrator they face in the courtroom. Edwards takes the reader from one to another with consummate ease, making the heartrending grief of Ryan’s parents, Marcia and Lloydie, and the fissure it has caused in their relationship, all the more poignant against the sterile coldness of the court procedures that Marcia in particular witnesses as the case progresses. Equally, Edwards has a highly attuned ear for, and sharp recognition of, the world of Ryan’s peers, and the insidious grasp of gang culture in the inner city. This comes to the fore in her characterisation of Sweetie, a young girl who is caught between the studious and respectable world of Ryan, and the forced allegiance she has to the local gang. This is a hard-hitting and socially intuitive novel that is ultimately both an emotional and thought-provoking must read. Recommended.

 

poeeeeSummer, 1840. Edgar Allan Poe arrives in London to meet his friend C. Auguste Dupin, in the hope that the great detective will help him solve a family mystery. For Poe has inherited a mahogany box containing sheathes of letters that implicate his grandparents in some of London’s most heinous and scandalous crimes – those committed by the so-called London Monster who, for two years, terrorized the city’s streets, stalking attractive, well-to-do young women, slicing their clothing and their derrières. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to accept that his grandparents – actors who struggled to make a living on the London stage – led a clandestine and nefarious double life, Poe and Dupin set out to prove the missives forgeries. But as they delve deeper into the city’s secrets, and past horrors emerge, they start to suspect that they too are being watched and preyed upon. And if they are, might their stalkers be connected to the London Monster?

With my nom de plume and love of Mr Poe how could I resist this one? Despite my usual hesitation in reading historical crime fiction, I though this was marvellous. Clever, knowing, witty,  and wonderfully researched with not only its reimaging of the salient details of Poe’s life, but also the repositioning of Poe’s relationship with his finest creation Dupin, banding together into a pretty damn effective detective team. Their are tricks, hints and allusions to Poe’s literary oeuvre, which add a layer of reader participation as the book progresses- no, I don’t think I spotted them all- and the use of the infamous real life case of the London Monster adds another layer of interest to the book. It’s beautifully constructed, alive with the feel of the period, and all the darkness, violence and treachery one would expect of any case involving Poe. An intelligent literary crime thriller that will keep you guessing throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

Taking into account the books from both March and April, the Raven has decided to award two books as the stand out reads over this period. I will give very, very, honourable mentions to Annemarie Neary- Siren, Yusuf Toropov-Jihadi, David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door and M. P. Wright- All Through The Night for providing unabated reading pleasure as they were all inherently different, and pushed my buttons in different ways.

However, the two books that have so firmly remained with me since reading, and which I’m still thinking about in the wake of reading them are….drumroll…. these two exceptional reads- Katie Medina- Fire Damage and Bill Beverly- Dodgers The Raven highly recommends both!

medina   dod

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City- Review

Sunset cityTwenty-two-year-old Charlotte Ford reconnects with Danielle, her best friend from high school, a few days before Danielle is found bludgeoned to death in a motel room. In the wake of the murder, Charlotte’s life unravels and she descends into the city’s underbelly, where she meets the strippers, pornographers and drug dealers who surrounded Danielle in the years they were estranged…

Billed as ‘taut, erotically charged literary noir’, Sunset City pretty much ticks all these boxes, and in common with the brilliant  Cracked by Barbra Leslie, explores the life of a damaged young woman in an impersonal and isolating metropolis, in this case Houston. Through her first person narrative, we observe Charlotte immersing herself totally in the life of her murdered friend Danielle, to uncover the truth behind her death, and drawing her into maelstrom of danger and jealousy. Fans of edgy, slight and sexy crime fiction in the style of Megan Abbott will love this. There’s a good development of Charlotte’s character as she navigates the underbelly of Houston life, encountering the less savoury characters that Danielle has been associating with, and drawing the reader in to a hazy world of drugs and sex, that are graphically explored in the course of the book.

This is another incredibly female-centric novel with much time expended on developing their characters, and very little development of the male protagonists, who again begin to conform to stereotype, although one or two of them would have been more interesting if they had been fleshed out a bit more. I liked the portrayal of Charlotte and Danielle’s relationship and the way their paths had diverged only to be brought back together in such difficult emotional circumstances. Charlotte herself exhibits a curious mix of strength and flakiness, that is so representative of the insecurities that women undergo in their twenties, seeking their place in the world, and being not altogether immune to the temptations that life that throw up, She was a likeable character throughout, despite moments of exasperation with her as she wandered blindly into moments of danger. I also thought the underlying angst and the exploration of the relationship  between Danielle and her mother was incredibly well drawn, paying particular attention to the difficulties and jealousies that can place pressure on the mother and daughter bond. These parts of the narrative really gave a sense of depth to the book, as the central mystery of the reasons behind Danielle’s death became very obvious very quickly, and the emphasis on characterisation rather than the delineation of the plot itself led to a rather damp squib ending.

Always one to comment of the use of location in the book, and in this one Houston provides a smart backdrop to the book. In a recent interview Ginsburg, who was brought up in Houston but now lives elsewhere, says that she is almost re-imagining the city from her youth, and this is very evident in the book. The Houston we see through the different characters viewpoints and experience of it is a prism of the city as a whole, making it not strictly urban and not strictly rural, not completely moral, but underscored with social darkness. The city mirrors the moods and lives of the protagonists in Ginsburg’s portrayal of it, and this works incredibly well throughout, in this not altogether unsatisfying dark, violent and sexy tale. Worth a look.

Melissa Ginsburg was born and raised in Houston and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of the poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost and two poetry chapbooks, Arbor and Double Blind. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Mississippi. Sunset City is her first novel.  Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @Ginsburgmelissa

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites

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Raven Crime Reads Exclusive: An Interview With M. P. Wright – All Through The Night (J T Ellington Trilogy)

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083It’s an absolute pleasure to host an exclusive Q&A with M.P. Wright on the release of All Through The Night- the second book to feature the charismatic J T Ellington, and the atmospheric setting of 1960’s Bristol. With his first book, Heartman, longlisted for a CWA Dagger and having attracted widespread praise from reviewers and readers alike, there’s also the mouthwatering prospect of a forthcoming TV adaptation too. Today, Wright shares with us not only his thoughts on writing, the journey from page to screen and his influences, but also the lowdown on the world of the Mr J T Ellington himself…

heartmanHeartman was your debut novel introducing us to the world of Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington. Can you give us a quick synopsis of the plot to introduce readers to the atmosphere and setting of the book?

Bristol, 1965. Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex police colonial police officer with a tragic past and a broken heart, has left his native Barbados in search of a better life in the Mother Country. But Bristol in the Sixties is far from the Promised Land and JT faces hostility from both the weather and the people. Then local mogul Earl Linney approaches him. He needs JT’s help finding Stella Hopkins, a young deaf and mute West Indian woman who has gone missing, and who the police aren’t interested in searching for. With rent due, and no job, JT has little option than to accept.

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=With the release of the second in the trilogy All Through The Night what is the indefatigable JT Ellington up to now, and which wrongs will he be attempting to right?

It’s the summer of 1966 and Ellington has set himself up in his Cousin Vic’s gymnasium and is eeking out a shabby living as an enquiry agent, debt collecting, divorce partitions and insurance work. He hates the work but does know what he really wants to do or what the future holds for him. Nursing a nasty hang-over he is approached by a shady administrator from a local orphanage to seek out a Jamaican GP and back street abortionist called Fowler who has stolen a number of death certificates of children previously in the care of the Walter Wilkins Children’s Home. JT is asked to find Fowler, retrieve the stolen documents and ask a simple question. “Where can the Truth be found?” It’s this strange question that leads Ellington on a journey across Bristol, the backwaters of Somerset and into the heart of darkness. Its essentially a chase story which expands on both the Heartman story and Joseph Ellington’s character.

Your characterisation is incredibly well-realised and the life you breathe into them- a real mix of the entertaining, the tormented, the bad to the core, or the heroic. Your main character Joseph in particular is a wonderfully multi-faceted character. From which corner of your imagination or life experience did you conjure him from and others within the piece?

Ellington as a character came to me very easily. I’d mapped out a huge back story and had a moleskine notebook containing his family history, much of it created from my own imagination, some of it garnered from research into family histories on the island of Barbados. I’ve had the luck to travel to the Caribbean and many of the Southern states of the USA, especially Louisiana. I wanted to hang around JT’s persona a strong layer of credibility and a sense of the real whilst giving the readers a feel for an ‘Old Age’ detective, that harks back to the times of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I say to my daughters that JT is the hero I could never be, but his Cousin Vic, is in some ways (I’m shamefaced to admit) very much me. His humour and no nonsense attitude certainly hark back to my own rather irascible personality.

bristol It’s always a brave authorial decision to set a book outside of the present era. What focused your attention on this era in particular and how did the idea to use Bristol (instead of the much favoured setting of 1960‘s London) present itself?

Of all the questions I’ve been asked about Heartman, ‘Why Bristol?’ is the one that is sprung on me most. Originally I’d tried to set the book here in my home town of Leicester, but logistically and on scale, it simply didn’t work. Bristol is a big and beautiful city. Its also strong connected to the West Indies in a commercial and commerce sense, most certainly historically for all the wrong reasons; slavery being the foremost. Heartman is set in St Pauls which sits just outside of Bristol city centre. It was ghettoised early on by greedy, white landlords who packed in new immigrants from the West Indies who had travelled thousands of miles to the mother country seeking work and the promise of ‘Streets That Were Paved with Gold’. What they got was far from the truth. Cramped tenement homes, badly paid jobs nobody else wanted and not always the warm welcome that the British political state had promised them either. Bristol was the right place for JT to make his new home. I wanted to put him in a world that was both familiar and alien. Ellington understands how British society works to some degree, he’s witnessed firsthand the White ‘Officer Class’ of the Barbadian Police Force in which he used to serve but at the same time is knocked for six by a country that is far removed from the Caribbean life he has led.

Obviously the subject matter and setting of the book required a degree of research on your behalf. How did you go about this and did you have anyone in your immediate circle whose experience of this period you could draw on directly?

Firstly, lots of first hand interviews, speaking to the residents of St Pauls today, especially those who lived there in the 1960’s. Their insight was invaluable. I spent time in the pubs that both JT & Vic frequent in Heartman, talking to locals, getting a feel for a specific time and place, the patois, the food and drink. St Pauls is a very special place, I love it. My partner and her family are from Bristol, their lilting Somerset accents helped when I was writing about West Country characters. I’ve been lucky to travel across Somerset which is a beautiful county. There such a lot of scope for the future novels in respect of plot and setting that can be drawn from the region.

With the very visual and textured quality of your writing I was delighted to hear that Heartman has been optioned for TV. What has been your personal experience of the journey from page to screen and your involvement in bringing Ellington to a whole new medium?

Heartman has been option by World Productions, makers of BBC’s Line of Duty & The Great Train Robbery and ITV’s The Bletchley Circle. It’s been adapted by the BAFTA award winning playwright and dramatist, Tony Marchant for the BBC. Everything is looking fantastic. TV takes its time to get things on the money with a production like Heartman, and rightly so. The script, now in its third draft, is spot on and everyone involved has worked so very hard on bringing the book to life. It’s just a matter of time before we hopefully have good news for the TV guys, but it’s a patience game you have to play and you simply have to sit back and put your trust in the professionals. I have every faith that World will bring a fabulous drama. The script is, if I say so myself. Stunning!

It’s great to see the huge influence on and the respect you have of, James Lee Burke, and also your mention of Walter Mosley. What is it about these two writers that really strikes a chord with you, and is it relevant in any way that they are both American?

Both James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley have influenced my own writing immensely. I could waffle on endlessly about the reasons, but to be concise, both writers offer up to the reader an important quality in their main characters of Robicheaux and Rawlins – and that’s integrity. Yes, both men are flawed but they are very real on the page and I wanted to emulate that in my own characters, flaws and all. Burke and Mosley’s characters are not heroic and JT Ellington is far from being a hero, but there is a heroic nature that develops in the man which is unfurled by his strong moral compass. He’s a man who is forced into a job he really doesn’t want. Desperation and necessity are what dictates his decisions as Heartman’s story develops. The relevancy of the American author angle is that I wanted to bring some of the ‘Man Alone’ feel to the current British Crime Fiction arena. Not in the ‘Maverick’ detective sense of the police procedural but as in the Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald world weary and cynical feel. I hope I’ve created that kind of vibe in my books.

 If you can put it into words how would you describe the journey through embarking on the first sentence of the book to the brink of publication?

A long, hard slog… And I’ve been very lucky. Publishing is a glacially slow process at times. Any writer out there expecting to find success overnight is going to be in for a real shock. There are a lot of knockbacks at first and nothing good happens overnight. As a writer you have to believe in your material, hone down the prose and have great characters that readers will want to fall in love with. I was also blessed to meet my literary agent; Philip Patterson of the Marjacq Agency in London. Phil has guided me through the good and bad. I’ve also been aided by some great writers who have been so supportive to my work; Peter James, Emyln Rees, Mari Hannah, Anne Zouroudi, Stav Sherez, Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen and Luca Veste. They all deserve a mention and a big drink!

RestlessCoffins-A-page-001 And so The Restless Coffins– the third of the trilogy beckons. Any teasers for us, and will this really be the final outing for this wonderful character?

I’d created the story arc of the Ellington series as a Trilogy. (As known as the Child Trilogy) The third book is called The Restless Coffins and sees JT return to his Barbados home to settle ‘family affairs’ and face both the organised crime lords and the array of corrupt police colleagues he’d once worked with. Since drafting that original trilogy, I am pleased to say that there will be a fourth book, The Rivers of Blood set in 1971 which I’ll start writing this autumn. I would not have return to JT’s world unless I thought the story was tight and I had something different to say with the characters. That’s certainly the case with The Rivers of Blood. I hope fans of the series will be pleased that my wily Bajan is getting a fourth outing. He’ll be a little older but still walking into the kind of unwelcome trouble he wished would leave him well along.

Life as an author in three words?

Bloody Hard Work!

Big thanks to Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions!

Mark Wright was born in Leicestershire in 1965. He was employed in various roles within the music industry before working as a private investigator. He retrained in 1989 and spent the next twenty years in the mental health and probation services in the UK, specialising in risk assessment. A self-confessed aficionado of film, music and real ale, and father of two beautiful daughters, Mark lives with his partner and their two Rottweiler dogs, Tiff and Dylan. Follow the author on Twitter @EllingtonWright

 

 

 

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night- Review

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=“It’s quite simple Mr Ellington. When you find Fowler, just ask where we can find the truth.”
With these words, private detective JT Ellington embarks on a seemingly simple case of tracking down a local GP with a dubious reputation and retrieving a set of stolen documents from him. For Ellington, however, things are rarely straightforward. Dr Fowler is hiding a terrible secret and when he is gunned down outside a Bristol pub, his dying words send JT in pursuit of a truth more disturbing and deadly than he could possibly have imagined…

Having been so singularly impressed with Wright’s debut outing Heartman there was a certain frisson of excitement in the Raven’s nest with the appearance of the second instalment All Through The Night, and the return of our harried private investigator J T Ellington. It’s 1966 and World Cup fever is spreading throughout the land, but Ellington once again has weightier troubles on his mind, not least the less than honourable goings on at a local childrens’ home, and the dark deeds of those connected with it. Consequently, Ellington finds himself on the run, protecting the life of a young child, and drawing on a network of acquaintances to ensure their safety, endeavouring to bring to justice the perpetrators of some very nasty crimes indeed…

Again, Wright is faultless in not only the characterisation of his central character, former Barbadian police officer, and now Bristol based private investigator, J T Ellington, and the feel of the 1960’s period in which the books are set. Ellington is a man defined by his integrity and stout heart, and his involvement in this particularly pernicious case does nothing to dispel these two essential parts of his character. Our empathy for him and his young charge is central to the enjoyment of this book, and Ellington unfailingly, despite his own personal demons, acts in a way that tugs at our heartstrings, and fosters our respect for him. Despite the best intentions of the bad guys, corrupt police officers and others who would thwart his investigation, Ellington proves himself to be not only a man encompassing a kind of everyman morality, but proves himself a brave knight in an investigation that begins to appear very similar to a ‘quest’ tale from days of yore. He is not infallible of course, and the rare moments of emotional or physical weakness that Wright so sensitively adds provide some real heart-in -the- mouth moments for the reader.

Another strength of the book is the surrounding cast, including the reappearance of Ellington’s profligate and ducking and diving cousin Vic, and  the outwardly tough as nails Loretta, along with a band of others on Ellington’s ‘underground railroad’ journey throughout England. Each character is rounded, vibrant and utterly believable, and boosted by Wright’s innate skill at reproducing the West Indian cadence and rhythm of speech ring with authenticity throughout. The book resonates with sharp dialogue and taut writing, which is underscored by an easy humour and counterbalanced with emotional depth as we look in on the world of Ellington- his personal relationships and professional difficulties. Hence, the characterisation proves itself lively and colourful throughout, and swimming against the tide of much mainstream crime fiction, each character works perfectly within the general narrative, without resorting to stereotypes.

For a contemporary audience, the crux of the plot is still reverberating in the present day with the recent exposures of decades of historic cases of abuse coming to light. In common with Heartman and its tough subject matter, I was impressed by Wright’s unflinching gaze on the criminal deeds of those supposedly in positions of trust or power within the Bristol community, and the depiction of the very non-PC and at times downright racist actions of the local constabulary, which inspires a certain degree of wrath in the reader, and a whole heap of trouble for our hero Ellington. The end result of this is a realistic, at times brutal, and utterly compelling plot throughout.

Obviously, I was very taken with this one, but in the interests of fair reviewing, and avoiding plot spoilers, I did have a little doubt at one aspect of the final denouement in terms of what happens to one of the main characters. It was a tad unconvincing, but in terms of the continuation of the trilogy, I can see why Wright choose this particular path to ensure the continuity of the series. In the grand scheme of things it was of little consequence, and my enthusiasm for this series to date cannot be dinted so easily. Highly recommended. With an extra ‘highly’. Roll on book three!

(With thanks to BW publishing for the ARC)

The Petrona Award 2016 Shortlist

A real highpoint of the year is the announcement of The Petrona Award shortlist and, this year proves itself no exception. A strong list of contenders and I wish Sarah, Kat, Karen and Barry the best of luck on choosing the overall winner. No easy task!

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Petrona LogoWe’re announcing today the shortlist for the 2016 Petrona Award.

Six top quality books from Finland, Sweden and Norway have made the shortlist. They are:

 THE DROWNED BOY by Karin Fossum tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)

THE CAVEMAN by Jorn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz tr. George Goulding (MacLehose Press; Sweden)

SATELLITE PEOPLE by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle/Pan Macmillan; Norway)

DARK AS MY HEART by Antti Tuomainen tr. Lola Rogers (Harvill Secker; Finland)

The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 21 May during the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 19-22 May 2016.

The award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in…

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Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake- Review #BlogTour

in her wakeWelcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the paperback release of Amanda Jennings’ psychological thriller In Her Wake, an emotionally intense exploration of familial relationships, attracting widespread acclaim from readers and reviewers alike…

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life, reminding us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

This is an incredibly female-centric novel, with the author quite evidently showing the amount of time and intensity she has invested into her two central protagonists, Bella and Dawn. Trying hard to avoid any major plot spoilers, the difficult emotional issues that lie between the two women as they seek to build a relationship after many years of estrangement is powerfully drawn, and Jennings spends a considerable amount of the book exploring Bella’s emotional journey in particular, which counterbalances to a degree the slight suspension of disbelief that the reader needs as the story unfolds. Bella is an entirely credible and empathetic character whose growth in stature and confidence drives the book onwards, and refreshingly, she is imbued with a host of insecurities that will be instantly recognisable to the female readership. As she seeks to overcome the trauma of her uncertain background, there is much soul searching and naval gazing on Bella’s part which worked to a certain degree, but at times, through no fault of the author, slowed the narrative down too much- this could have been addressed in the editing stage. Equally, Dawn’s story is crucial to the success of the book, and was for me far more engaging with her difficult emotional background, and her life curtailed by her fierce loyalty to her mother. The sacrifices she has had to make which have thwarted her potential for a far more satisfying life, have set her on a very different course to which she imagined. However, with the strength of the female characters so clearly in evidence throughout, an inevitable consequence of this was the more two-dimensional drawing of the male characters in the book, which did tend to descend into a rather clichéd compartmentalising of the worst male character traits, physical abuser, lothario, controller, doormat, and so on. Consequently, I found my reading experience was frustrated by this underlying feeling of implausibility and frustration as to the male characterisation, but the portrayal of the female characters was more successful and carried the book.

Back on a positive note though, I loved Jennings’ portrayal of Cornwall itself and its unique landscape and weather patterns which so cleverly seemed to echo and reflect the surge of emotions that arise in Bella. The changeable nature of the natural environment of Cornwall is consistently drawn on throughout, so like Bella you can almost feel the sand between your toes, coupled with the mercurial mixture of rain, sun and breeze, and the stomach dropping wonder of a stroll along rugged cliff-tops, with the waves crashing below. I thought this added an overall additional intensity to the emotional turbulence of the plot itself, and very much enjoyed Bella’s perambulating exploration of unfamiliar terrain. In common with Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors which draws on the Scottish folkloric traditions of the Selkie, Jennings uses the Cornish equivalent with her inclusion of mermaid myths, which provided another point of local interest in the book.

Hence, In Her Wake proves itself to be a largely satisfying example of more literary domestic noir, in the currently overcrowded market for this particular genre. The more obvious flaws in the plot, and the weaknesses evident in the male characterisation are roundly dispelled by the strength of Jennings’ female characterisation which is compelling throughout, and the unfailingly pictorial part that her chosen location of Cornwall plays within the book.

 

Catch up with, or keep following the In Her Wake Blog Tour at these excellent sites!

 

In Her Wake Blog tour

Annemarie Neary- Siren

b2c884_18036d56c0324f78b3cd43bcd5d3f4b8Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth. Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

With jacket quotes from the brilliant  Stuart Neville and  Liz Nugent and the promise of being a stand out addition to the Irish crime genre, the lure of Siren was irresistible to this reviewer…

I was astounded by the incredible balance of narrative, location and characterisation throughout this impressive debut novel from Neary, with all aspects of the book working in complete harmony with one another. No mean feat for a new writer, and showing a degree of skill that some writers take more than a few books to achieve. Set against the reverberating echo of The Troubles, one of the most contentious and defining conflicts of the twentieth century, Neary has constructed a tale that effortlessly intertwines a present and past timeline that slowly uncoils revealing small nuggets of bitter truths, as the reader progresses through Róisín’s compelling and thought provoking story.

As Róisín embarks on her personal mission of retribution, the violent and emotive details of her involvement in a honey trap in her teenage years, resulting in the murder of two soldiers slowly unfolds. Neary demonstrates through her portrayal of Róisín’s adolescent years the prescient dangers and threats of danger that overshadowed the lives of many in Belfast in this tumultuous period, and the skeletons in the closet of Róisín’s family itself. Likewise, the simmering rage and desire for revenge that Róisín harbours for Lonergan himself is never far from the surface, and which reveals itself in a series of flashbacks to his manipulation of her in previous events. Róisín is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and contains a mass of contradictions, as she gravitates between clear-sighted belief in her actions, underscored by moments of incredible sensitivity and self doubt. If ever a character was written to elicit empathy in the reader, Neary has this pretty much spot on, as Róisín is never less than a totally believable and sympathetic character. To further draw on the characterisation of this book, I loved the way that was a certain shadowy pall around the male protagonists, as Neary never really gives the reader a complete picture of their motivations, choosing to keep them to a larger degree, slightly shrouded from our unflinching gaze. If this was a deliberate move on the author’s part it was a wise one as this incompleteness to their definition added a further level of menace to them and their interactions with Róisín herself. Also choosing to set the contemporary story on the grim outcrop of Lamb Island, instead of keeping the action centred in Belfast itself, worked very well. The air of impending violence and fear that Róisín experiences is heightened substantially by the bleakness of the surrounding island landscape, and the isolation of her temporary abode on the island from where she embarks on her vengeful mission.

I was incredibly impressed with this debut, with its pitch perfect mix of extreme human emotions, combined with the resonance of history. Neary has achieved something really quite special. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Guest Post- C J Carver- The 5 Things I Do When I Get Stuck Writing- #SpareMeTheTruth

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To mark the publication of C J Carver’s latest high-octane thriller Spare Me The Truth, I am delighted to be hosting a guest post from Caroline, that offers some top tips for those sticky moments when inspiration temporarily takes leave from the creative process…

Spare me the TruthThe 5 things I do when I get stuck writing

  1. Don’t panic

Over time, I’ve learned that getting stuck is part of the process. I used to freak out, convinced that if I wrote my way through it I’d be OK but for me this doesn’t work – in this state, I write absolute rubbish.

For some reason, with every book I have two or three spells of writing inactivity, and now I recognize it for what it is: time to take a break and let my subconscious chew the creative fat undisturbed. When I eventually face my computer I’m happy to be there and the words and ideas flow.

  1. Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration

Instead of sitting and glaring at my computer screen, I get active. I go into town, tuck myself into the library or a busy café, and people watch. I doodle. I try to imagine what the more interesting looking people want out of life and how far they’d go to get it. What their greatest fears are. Then I go to a bookshop and browse. I walk a lot. I watch rubbish TV. I give my unconscious mind a good talking to and tell it to keep working on the book.

  1. Go for a drive or get decorating

There is something about movement against the eyes that kicks in the right side of the brain – the creative side. Anything repetitive like scrubbing the floor, decorating, fly-fishing (which I love) and which occupies my body but frees my mind, is part of my arsenal for getting unstuck. Driving does the same thing. Coming back from Sainsbury’s when I’m mid-way through a book is brilliant. I drive through a wood with tall trees and the movement of the trees against the sky does something to my brain because I invariably have my best ideas then. Weird, but true.

  1. Random exercises

If I’m only briefly stuck, like mid-way through a chapter, then there are some tricks I use, like having my next paragraph reveal an unexpected turn of events. Or interrupting the scene with a bizarre new character. I did this one time and the character remained, giving me a whole new angle on the book which was a bit of a surprise. Also, it’s worth checking you’re on track and that your characters are under continual stress, the story moving along, and that each chapter ends with a cliff hanger, no matter how small.

  1. Handwrite a letter from your main character to their nemesis

There is something about the action of pen against paper that stimulates the brain. P.D. James handwrote all her books, apparently. I think there is something about the time it takes to write a sentence that gives the brain enough time to move on that makes this so successful. I’m a touch typist and can write 110 words a minute, which is great when I wrote the final action scene in Spare Me the Truth – no stopping there! – but for more sensitive scenes or when I’m struggling, I always pick up a pen.

C.J. Carver’s first novel Blood Junction won the CWA Debut Dagger and was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best mystery books of the year. Half-English, half New Zealand, C.J. has been a travel writer and long-distance rally driver, driving London to Saigon and London to Cape Town. Her novels have been published in the UK and the USA and translated into several languages. Find out more about Carver and her books by visiting her website here Follow on Twitter @C_J_Carver

Missed any stops on the  #SpareMeTheTruth blog tour? Catch up at these excellent sites…

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Programme Announced: CrimeFest – 19-22 May 2016- International Crime Fiction Convention

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PETER JAMES, IAN RANKIN, ANNE HOLT, HUGH FRASER  HEAD UP STELLAR CRIMEFEST LINE-UP

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Peter James, Anne Holt, Ian Rankin and Hugh Fraser are among the top names set to speak at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol, 19th – 22nd May. CrimeFest will once again host a stellar line-up of award-winning, bestselling crime fiction authors, as well as hundreds of publishers, agents and lovers of crime fiction over four days of exciting panel discussions and author talks. Since its launch in 2008 CrimeFest has become the standout event of the year for crime fiction aficionados from around the world.

International bestselling author of the Roy Grace series Peter James will be interviewed by Andrew Taylor about receiving the Crime Writer’s Association Diamond Dagger Award for excellence in crime writing. Anne Holt, who has spearheaded the Norwegian crime-thriller trend, becoming Norway’s bestselling female crime writer, will be interviewed by Barry Forshaw and award-winning crime author Ian Rankin will be interviewed by Jake Kerridge. This year Hugh Fraser, best known for playing Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s Poirot, will be the Gala Dinner Toastmaster, having recently released his debut novel Harm.

 Andrew Sisman, bestselling author of the biography that unearthed the enigma behind John le Carré, will be in conversation with BBC icon James Naughtie to discuss the compelling espionage that led le Carré to write classic crime thrillers like The Night Manager, now a hit BBC series.

The hotly contested trial of Steven Avery in the unmissable Netflix documentary Making A Murderer will be debated in a mock-trial hosted by Crime Scene Magazine. Neil White, criminal lawyer and bestselling author of Cold Kill, will be battling head to head for Avery’s conviction against Steven Cavanagh, author of the Eddie Flynn thrillers. Sophie Hannah will be making a special appearance as the Judge.

CrimeFest host and co-founder Adrian Muller said: “This has been a fantastic year for crime fiction, with TV adaptations of real cases like Making A Murderer and The Jinx and adaptions of crime classics like The Night Manager and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None boosting crime fiction’s popularity and reaching a new audience. From discussing contemporary issues of everything from cyber-terrorism to sexism within the police force to debating corruption in the criminal justice system, CrimeFest will present an array of exciting panels from the best crime fiction authors from around the world.”

 Also appearing at the UK’s biggest crime convention are a number of fantastic panel events and discussions including:

  • ‘Deadly Dames: Women As Killers, Investigators And Victims’ with culinary-crime writers Janet Laurence and Anna Mazzola
  • ‘What’s So Funny? Humour In Crime Fiction’ with James Runcie (Grantchester) and Dead Ringers writer Nev Fountain
  • ‘Crimes Against Humanity: Terrorism, War And International Intrigue’ with Yusuf Toropov, author of Jihadi: A Love Story
  • ‘When is Enough Too Much?: Violence Against Women In Crime Fiction’ with Shetland author Ann Cleeves and author of the bestselling Thora Gudmundsdottir series Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, moderated by James Runcie

A full programme is available at: http://www.crimefest.com/programme-cf/

www.crimefest.com

 

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